It’s great to look back on a very busy year with a large number of projects covering several fields – performance, teaching, designing and media production. It felt pretty chaotic at times, but looking at it from more of a distance, there is a common thread of collaborative creativity. Some were harder work than others, but I’ve learned that the successful projects were the ones where I was passionate and proactive yet gentle in approach, investing time and energy, creating the conditions to allow experimentation, talking about the work and getting feedback from others and using that to develop wisely – and when that all comes together, as well as being a positive experience for everyone involved it also brings value to the wider community .
I have to confess to starting out with some skepticism about the whole idea of music in healthcare, and despite reading a huge amount of research, the initial idea was to bring harp music to young babies and follow the music into baby groups, extending backwards from existing work with children with special needs. We approached Gloucester Hospital Neonatal Unit to ask whether they’d be interested in principle, successfully gained funding, and then, working with Opus at Derby, the project became much more about making initimate musical connections. Thus we went back to Gloucester Hospital with the harp, and commenced bedside playing in the wards. This branched out to intensive care areas, and I started composing original music and uploading it to a new mini-site for the project. I freely shared my experiences with other music professionals. The most pragmatic way to get initial feedback within the hospital was via a book which we put on the Nurses’ station – and soon we had parents, nurses and doctors (and me) all sharing the pages – freely, and openly and not kept hidden and private, as we initially thought we’d have to. Sometimes my own comments would be picked up and new avenues suggested – which is how I came to play for some procedures. I tried other ideas, based on published research, and while there were lots of new ideas to explore, in general the less formal the engagement with the staff and parents, often the more successful it was. I included the compositions in public concerts at Gaunts and at Northborough, talked about the project and the music at the Nordic harp meeting and at two Ashridge workshops including for the Danish Government health service chiefs, and finally, a day at an Opus symposium in November led to an insight about the value of sharing my practice with others and inviting them in – which is about including and involving others. I’m also proud that along the way it’s inspired two professional musicians to take up this work in the USA and I’m thankful for the gentleness, openness and amazing acceptance from everyone. For me, this is the most outstanding thing I’ve ever initiated or been involved in and I’m very proud of it.
Solo Harp concerts
It’s fun to play in public, and in concerts it’s great to talk about the context as well, so audiences become an important part of the occasion. This year I appeared at Northborough Harp Festival with Leonard Jacombe, at Helpston with Stef Conner performing my arrangements of John Clare’s music, at two concerts at Gaunts House and during academic programmes for Ashridge, and various busking appearances in Gloucester as well as with Slainte. I love the spectrum of performing spaces from the formal to the very informal – each have their rewards and it’s shown me that the harp and its music can speak to anyone.
Having missed the deadline to enter the Cheltenham Performing Arts Festival each year, this year I competed as a soloist in a competition in the adult professional musician class (open to any string / wind player) and won the open performance cup with an “outstanding” performance. It’s quite a nerve-wracking experience playing for judges and I was just pleased to get out alive!
Other music / teaching projects
Almost in spite of a gentle, inclusive teaching approach which encourages ear-playing, arrangement and memory games, which don’t fall within the requirements of ABRSM exams, I’m especially proud of the two candidates I submitted to take ABRSM grades in Harp; both gained distinctions.
I helped run a school choir and further developed the CKJS choir website which allows children to learn the music as well as celebrate their successes; it’s completely open to anyone who wishes to take part, and this year we took them to Cheltenham Performing Arts Festival at the Town Hall (the day before my harp solo class) and also got through to the regional finals of the Music for Youth programme at the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham – and in between, performed on many other occasions in Cheltenham
- A CD of Sumerian and babylonian sung texts – CD and video with Andy Lowings and Stef Conner (editing to be finished / approved, fundraising video to be completed)
- Sensory Music for PMLD children, working collaboratively with practitioners and parents and using innovative bluetooth technology – in progress (CD and literature)
- Creating and playing music for neonatal / special needs – CD, web site with uploads and publicity images (CD to be finished)
- Video for Gloucestershire Music – Raise the Roof (shoot and edit across two locations completed / awaiting approval and final grading for sign-off)
House design / building
We completed the designs and got planning permission for Wayside, a 256m2 house in an AONB in Cheltenham and (to be completed) we are finalising access / commencement issues, which is about making sure the final details of the driveway and the site layout for construction ticks all the boxes – this is the project where I’m most at the edge of my ability and it’s often felt like a struggle.
The chronology of these projects shows just how many things overlap, and how messy the process often is! Anyway…
Jan – Mark playing harp at YAPS group with young mothers and children (video)
Feb – Start recording Lyre CD and associated videos at Northborough Parish Church (first of 7 weekends!)
March – full planning permission granted for house design at Wayside
April – successfully gained funding for Neonatal music project at Gloucester Hospital, attended Opus course in Derby and ran project for remainder of 2013 at the hospital including playing at night and for procedures, produced a webpage and composed, recorded and uploaded original compositions
May – won performance cup at Cheltenham Performing Arts Festival
July – performance with Stef Conner at Helpston church
August – Concerts at Gaunts House Summer Gathering / harp recital in Northborough both including original neonatal compositions
Sept – creativity workshop with Masters in Sustainablility in Cornwall
Oct – creativity workshop and presentation on hospital music project with hospital managers at Ashridge
Nov – my two ABRSM candidates gained distinctions / ran two workshops at Nordic Harp festival (Sweden) in composition and in hospital music
Dec – successful first round for Cochlear Implant music / application for further work in the hospital to help train two new practitioners and gaining full support of the medical staff there / Choir performances / finalising access and other commencement conditions for planning